“Mom, don’t go out. Get somebody else to buy your groceries. It’s not safe out there with the coronavirus and all. At your age, you’re in the high-risk group. Just wait till I can come and take care of it.” “You did what? Don’t go walking alone! What if you fall and break a hip?” “Are you wearing your alert button?” “You can’t keep living in that house, Mom. I know this nice senior community . . .”

You, being younger, may be the one saying these things. I understand. I have been the child bossing the parent. Well, in my case, more like cajoling, playing “good cop” while my brother was the bossy one. Our father ignored us both until he literally could not move on his own and had to give in. Before that, if you pushed too hard, he’d bite you like a rattlesnake.

He can’t, you can’t, you’re too old, you have to stop driving . . .

What makes people do this? I think we get scared. We see our parents failing and we don’t want to lose them. We also see our responsibilities increasing and want to lighten them.

If I had a grown child—or my late father—watching me as I climbed on a chair to fix the clock the other day, they would have had a stroke. Dad was always sure I’d fall. “I’m fine,” I’d say, but he would remember that one relative who fell off a chair in her kitchen, struck her head, and went blind.

Now, I know that I’m the same aging woman with osteoporosis, arthritis and a raging bout of plantar fasciitis who was using a cane to get around earlier in the day, but I was warmed up now, and who else was going to adjust the damned Mickey Mouse clock my late husband left behind?

When we’re little, we think our parents can do anything. Then we grow up and think we can do everything. One day, we realize we’re all faking it. Then we find ourselves standing on a chair feeling our legs shake as we move the minute hand a little farther down Mickey’s thigh. But we won’t tell our kids because we want to adjust our own clocks. What if the son or daughter doesn’t like the Mickey Mouse clock and thinks we should get rid of it?

That’s if we have a son or daughter, which we don’t. I don’t know about you, but I’m grateful not to have grown children telling me what to do.

I’m rambling while I sit in the sun with a robin on the nearby fence preening his red chest feathers—and maybe taking a break from his own children. I hear another robin singing from the tree across the yard. His mate?

Back to those imaginary children of my own. They would scold me for not putting on suntan lotion and a hat. They’d be right, too. I’m getting burnt, but I wanted to get to the writing. And it’s worth it. Sitting here next to the purple foxglove with the robin nearby and the sun warming me to the marrow feels glorious.

Not having children means enjoying old age without grown offspring telling you what to do. Your friends might nudge you a bit, but they’re just as stubborn as you are and dealing with the same challenges, so unless you have dementia, God forbid, they’ll let you make your own choices. I like this. I know that’s what my father wanted, which is why he lived at home alone for so long, to 96. He got hurt quite often—the paramedics knew him well-—but in between, he could sit in his patio watching his own robins, tending his geraniums and his artichoke plants, and feeling the sun warm his bones. He was still king of his own domain.

The robin is looking toward the tree now. Maybe he’s thinking about checking in. Maybe he’s waiting for me to move so he can go back to pulling worms out of the grass. I will. I’m hot.

So it’s good that we don’t have adult children bossing us around. In these coronavirus days, I hear about more bossy sons and daughters than ever, but most of the time they’re communicating by phone or Facetime so they can’t offer any concrete physical help. That means my parent friends are in the same situation as we childless folks have always been, depending on friends who live nearby.

I don’t want babies these days, except to visit with as Grandma or Great-Grandma. I like my sleep, and I like my antique glass collection, but there are certainly times when I wish I had an adult child or two to help me with things, whether it’s moving furniture or figuring out what to do about the health insurance company denying my claim. The chores pile up, I am constantly behind, and . . . But wait, are my friends’ children really helping with any of that stuff? Not that I can see. They’re busy with their own lives.

It would be nice if I had kids to throw me a birthday party and make me a cake with “Mom” written in gooey frosting. I’d like to know that someone was around to take over when I died. I’d like to look at someone and see my mother’s eyes, my father’s chin, hear my husband’s deep voice . . .

But I don’t want to be bossed around. I fully intend to be one of those stubborn old ladies who watches out for herself as long as she possibly can. And then?

Let’s just watch Mr. Robin pull worms out of my raggedy lawn and listen to Mrs. Robin sing to her chicks.

Your thoughts?


IMPORTANT NOTICE: As I have mentioned before, I’m putting together a “Best of Childless by Marriage” book from the blog. I am including many of your comments, all anonymous or by first names only. Many of you are better writers than I am. If you have any objection to having those comments in a book, both print and online, please let me know at, and I will remove them. I don’t want this to be an issue later, so please speak up soon. I am almost finished with the book. Thank you. 


  1. Hmmmm. Interesting. Because I’ve certainly been the child telling the parent what to do, in terms of my mother with dementia, and my in-laws into their 90s.

    I think there’s a far cry between you changing a light bulb right now, and trying to do it in your 90s. (I’m guessing we’re about the same age – which means you’re just a spring chicken! lol)

    I’ve also seen parents and in-laws and parents of my friends lose their judgment, their ability to determine what is a sensible risk (carefully climbing on a chair, for example) against what is not a sensible risk (my father-in-law deciding to climb on his roof when he was in his 80s, then fainting there), etc etc. Many elderly people lose that ability to determine risk, and insist they can do things – like driving when they should NOT be driving any longer- that puts OTHER people at risk too. Or now, for example, going out in COVID which might put people coming to help them at risk.

    So I hope I will know when to draw the line – preferably just before my judgment goes – rather than much sooner, or worse, much too late. And I’m hoping to plan for that before I need to. (I’ve been thinking about posting about this again – I wrote some initial thoughts here.


    • Thanks for these wise thoughts, Mali. I won’t be going on any roofs, but I know what you mean. It’s difficult, but sometimes you have to step in for the safety of your loved one, especially when they have dementia. Who will do this for us? Good question. And yes, we’re just spring chickens. 🙂


  2. Hi Sue

    I was the one not necessarily telling my mum what to do, but trying to work alongside her wishes whilst she was still alive, and even though her mobility was limited, it certainly didn’t mean her mind was impaired. Because she told me what she wanted, I was able to ensure she could remain in her own home with carers in place for when I was at work. My brothers, on the other hand, who actually lived in the same house as her, weren’t particularly helpful, despite what they led others to believe – haha!

    So yes, it makes me wonder who will be my champion when I am ageing and not able to do the things I want to do. I agree with Mali that many older people aren’t particularly sensible when it comes to the things they do that they really shouldn’t be doing, not sure if this is a generation thing and that they come from a different time when life was a lot different from what it is now.

    I am partly in agreement with you about people with children not having the actual physical presence and help in person – I have noticed many elderly people who are my neighbours have had many visits from their families during lockdown here and they have all conducted their visitations (and discussed their business much to my surprise and mild embarrassment when I’ve been working hard in my own garden – eek) on the pavements outside the homes of their mothers/grandmothers or fathers.

    From the opposite end of the scale, I’ve had to contend with a very forceful older woman who is a neighbour who has made herself known repeatedly whilst I’ve been outside gardening (I had to do a lot of work in my front garden as it has been neglected due to me never having the time when working/running around after other people!). She has stopped me in my tracks to talk to me, stopped me in my tracks to ask if I want any fish from the ‘fish man who visits every fortnight. Stopped me in my tracks to ask if I want various plants from her garden . . . and stopped me to moan about her neighbours. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind being stopped. But as I have other things I need to do as well as when I was still working from home and had just stepped out into the garden for some exercise and fresh air during my lunch break, it would mean I wasn’t getting my stuff done that I’d set out to do before having to head back to work again . . . so it’s not just bossy adult children here, it’s bossy older people who have adult children who don’t live in the same city or country and are at a loose end 😉

    It sounded perfect in your garden by the way, I love watching the birds. They are very entertaining!


  3. I agree. I’ve heard lots of bossing of older people. Heard a conversation in a charity shop the other day: “so and so volunteer not coming back until at least January, because her family don’t want her to.” I felt sorry for her. I wonder what she herself wants.

    I still have elderly parents. I’m not near enough to shop for them, so they have continued to go themselves. They have the routine of going on a Friday, when it’s getting busy, so I suggested they go more mid-week. Don’t know if they listened or not. They like routine.

    I purposefully do things for myself now (even though I have a husband) and try to add to my knowledge of DIY and similar, as I know I will have to be self-reliant when I’m older. At least we childless people know this. It won’t come as a surprise as it might if adult children unexpectedly move away.


    • Yes, you are so right to be preparing for a possible future on your own. The husband of a close friend died last week, and she is completely unprepared and terrified. She has kids, but they’re not close by. She’s counting on me and other friends instead.


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